#204 – The Middle Manager

Jonathan Byrnes, an MIT senior lecturer, wrote in his 2005 article, Middle Management Excellence, that the single most important thing CEOs can do to maximize the performance of their company is to build the capabilities of Middle Management (Vice Presidents, Directors and Managers). While the capabilities, themselves, might have changed from back in 2005 to today, with an increased focus on empowering subordinates and being a servant leader, we still believe in Byrnes’ other statement from the article that “the highest calling in Management is teaching your Managers to manage”.

However, if Upper Management (i.e., the Executives) has not bought into the agile ways of working, Middle Management will end up in a predicament where the teams expect autonomy, empowerment and trust from the Manager while the Manager’s Managers expect him/her to be accountable for the deliveries and, therefore, in total control and know every single detail and status of the deliveries.

You can avoid this by finding an Upper Management sponsor before embarking on your agile journey—or, if you’re already on it, win an Executive over by showing data on how going agile has improved your organization so far, as well as the remaining potential if Upper Management also “goes agile” and frees the poor Middle Management hostages.

In our eyes, the overall mission of Middle Managers, as well as all other formal Management roles, in an agile context is to servant-lead by example, maximize Psychological Safety, and provide the support and resources needed to create an environment of empowered teams being the atomic unit of the organization—and continuously and relentlessly increase the span of influence of these teams, no matter how much gunfighting (i.e., coaching) it might require.